It can often be unclear which team is “the best”. Do you count stage wins? Overall victories? Team classifications? Each one of these questions will yield a different result, which is why I am limiting my criteria. I wanted to find the most feared team in the peloton, the one that has the power to do it all in the grand tours. And so I present to you, Saxo Bank, the greatest grand tour team in the modern peloton.
I decided upon Saxo Bank because they have one of the most multi-faceted teams in the ProTour, with GC threat Andy Schleck, time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara, super domestique Fränk Schelck, and breakaway specialist Jens Voight. With this mix of riders Saxo Bank has found the ultimate balance between power and leadership, with a defined leader (Fränk Schleck) and a defined GC rider (Andy Schleck). The only thing that this team lacks is a sprinter that can spin with the likes of Tyler Farrar and Mark Cavendish. Yet no one can even compete with the Manx Missile these days, so I’m willing to overlook this fact.
To illustrate what I mean by the “Carbon Fist”, I’d like to take you through the average Tour de France for the Belgian outfit.
The race will start with a prologue or opening time trial, not long, perhaps 15km. Andy Schleck will post a decent time, behind the TT specialists but still easily among the other GC favorites. Fränk Schelck and Jens Voight will put up slower times, but neither is known for the time trialing ability. And then Swiss road and time trial champion Fabian Cancellara will destroy the course. He will take the yellow jersey and keep it for the next week as the sprinters take their fair share of stage wins.
Next comes a medium mountains stage, or perhaps a flat stage with windy conditions. Jens Voight will make his way into a breakaway, and hold on for most of the stage, unleashing attack after attack until he has dropped every other rider. This has happened for many grand tours, yet the German failed to do so this year following a horrible crash on Stage 16 of this year’s Tour de France:
Voigt made a full recovery and finished out his season at the Tour of Missori. He has recently stated that he would like to race the TdF again next year.
Following this Saxo Bank stage win, the team will remain at ease until the high mountains. This is where the true power of the team truly shows. Fränk Schelck more than earned his title of “super-domestique” at this year’s Tour de France, laying it down all for the GC hopes of younger brother Andy, who won the white jersey (best rider under-26 rider) for the second straight year. The duo work together extremely well in the mountain stages, and arguably no other pair works as well in tandem as the Schlecks do. To thank his older brother, Andy Schleck allowed Fränk Schelck to ride away for the win after a grueling Stage 17 (the stage after Voigt’s crash).
Heroic acts like these have become common for the Schlecks, who placed second and fifth in this year’s Tour. They will hope to continue their work, yet they will need more than brotherly love to overcome Alberto Contador next year. Andy Schleck is among the top climbers in the world, but this has done little to aid his time trialing. He often loses valuable chunks of times to the GC contenders who can also time trial, such as Contador and Armstrong. If the Shlecks want to take the top step of the podium, Andy will have to improve his times against the clock.
So what does this leave Saxo Bank with? A rider (or two) on the podium, a few stage wins, and the ability to win in almost any situation. Saxo may not have achieved the highest palmares, but they are certainly with its reach.